Between Dimensions: Chrysalis (2007)

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Between Dimensions is a continuing feature that examines science-fiction on the screen in all of its forms: big or small, good or bad.

Cops and Robbers Metaphysicalized with Panache

The recent Bruce Willis film Surrogates reminded me of a French film called Chrysalis. Their shared idea – what makes up our identity – can play out many ways. (All the films based on PKD stories are testament to that). My advice? Just skip Surrogates. Rent Chrysalis. Julien Leclercq has directed a smoothly styled film noir (more correctly, un very slick filme bleu-noire) of French cops searching for the abductors of young women who, as illegal aliens, are highly vulnerable to exploitation. Expertly threaded into this somewhat generic story is a dramatic neurological breakthrough. It gives the film its energy by spinning in and out of the basic cops and crooks with inventiveness and a lot of visual elan.

The backbone of Chrysalis’ story is tough-minded cops doing their job in a futuristic Paris. The settings are a mix of shiny future and grimy underlayer. The thugs are nasty and vicious, cold-bloodedly dispatching officer David Hoffman’s wife/partner before the opening credits finish. The film doesn’t pause as the intense search for the abductors melds into a parallel one for his wife’s killer. David’s nature – already bleak and morose – needs only a few more down clicks to reach the brutal level of those he is chasing. A new partner Marie (in a minor filmic flaw, a little too bright-eyed and compassionate for a cop) does little to bring him out of his hell.

As a snitch sets up the wife’s murderer for David and Marie to take down, this future Paris is revealed in small but telling details much in the way Blade Runner used ambience and gadgets to engage you. Iris scanning is de rigueur. Hand scanners quickly reveal bar coded citizens’ identities. The police all have transponders embedded in their neck. Workspaces are sharp-edged. Desktops are interactive. The cars we see are appropriately not-of-our-time. What makes this future work is the photography – actors and settings are captured in a beautiful deep ice blue and rich black. It’s like a full moon was pulled from the lighting truck. Thanks to this style the static shots and the action scenes are exactly as they should be – distant, slightly strange, and most unnerving.

The real anxiety unfolds benignly. A brilliant neurosurgeon – Marthe Keller playing the icily confident doctor – is attempting to rehabilitate her daughter after a horrendous car accident. (Also in those hard working opening credits.) Our medical future is glimpsed in slowly revealed flashes that are both macabre and chilling. As this thread plays out, the police, the gangster, and the surgeon are unwittingly intertwined. The clue? Some characters either have (or will get) small burn marks on the top and bottom of their inner eyelids. For the hardcore SF crowd, that’s a major coordinate.

The hospital settings also are future tense – the operating theatre, the surgeon’s office, even the wards have been bleached of the familiar. And it is in the operating theatre that the film’s signature visual takes place. (Although strictly speaking it is a huh? moment.) From Paris, she performs surgery on a little boy in Mexico. The future becomes astonishing as her digitally gloved hands grasp the boy’s organs holographically in techno blue and star white. Two robot arms assist her. The choreography of the surgeon, the robot arms, and the patient is astonishing. It evokes nothing less than Kubrick’s elegant dance of space ship and space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although if you don’t like Yanni, you might find the music not quite up to the standard of Straus. But it worked very nicely for me.

While we’re on the subject of signature visuals, a close second is the savage fight (in two parts) between David and his fugitive, Nicolov. The first encounter in David’s apartment gives new meaning to the word pulp as their furious fists, forearms, and other bony body parts pound each other into staggering, bleeding hulks. This is not your typical Han Mu Do. The speed (cinematically tweaked?) of their blows generates a demented intensity that elevates this combat to the level of the knife fight in Eastern Promises. Part 2 reprises the battle with the same intensity and level of damage as the film pounds its way to a resolution. (And post this review if you’ve spotted the Yikes! moment concerning Nicolov. It leaves a black and blue bruise on this otherwise fine film).

Chrysalis is about characters and their passions first, science fiction second. And it’s better for it. We engage with these characters and get to live in their world. That world may be the future but the passions have been around for thousands of years. By Leclercq striking this balance between characters and setting and managing two story lines so adroitly, he turns an SF film into a great movie.

Recommended If You Like: A Clockwork Orange, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, AI: Artificial Intelligence

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  • John

    Torrent anyone?

  • Chrysalis is pretty good. Loved the fight scenes.